U.S. businesses with COVID-19 outbreaks are facing an emerging legal threat from claims that workers brought coronavirus home and infected relatives, which one risk analysis firm said could cost employers billions of dollars.
The cases borrow elements from “take home” asbestos litigation and avoid caps on liability for workplace injuries, exposing business to costly pain and suffering damages, even though the plaintiff never set foot on their premises.
“Businesses should be very concerned about these cases,” said labor and employment attorney Tom Gies of Crowell & Moring, which defends employers.
The lawsuit against Aurora alleges that Ricardo Ugalde worked “shoulder to shoulder” on the company’s processing line in April when Aurora knew it had a coronavirus outbreak at its facility and failed to warn employees or adopt any infection prevention measures.
Aurora did not respond to a request for comment.
Between 7% and 9% of the roughly 200,000 U.S. COVID-19 deaths so far are believed to stem from take-home infections and the lawsuits could cost businesses up to $21 billion if the number of Americans fatalities reaches 300,000, according to Praedicat, a firm that evaluates risks for insurers.
Rob Reville, Praedicat’s chief executive, cautions that is a worst-case scenario and said the cases might cost far less, depending on how judges view the lawsuits.